Make international travel easier and less stressful with these customs agents’ tips.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) presents this list of holiday season tips. These tips can be found in the CBP “Know Before You Go” booklet. Knowing what CBP needs travelers to know before getting to passport control and customs stations will make all international travel easier, less stressful, and more enjoyable.
Have all needed travel documents:
Have passports and any other required travel documents ready when approaching a CBP officer for processing and when visiting a foreign country. Visit https://www.usa.gov/enter-us and www.state.gov/travelers for information about approved travel documents for entry into the US,
Declare everything you want to bring home with you:
Truthfully declare everything that you bring into the United States. Include duty-free items. If you owe duties, they may be paid with credit cards or cash payments in U.S. currency. Check the list of prohibited and restricted items prior to traveling.
Declare all food:
Travelers carry many damaging pests and diseases into the country on plants and food items. If you have questions about which food products may come into the United States, please visit https://help.cbp.gov/. And remember – don’t pack a pest!
Declare gifts as part of your exemption:
All gifts must be declared when returning to the US. You may include them in your personal exemption. Make sure to include gifts that you receive abroad and that you purchase for others.
Report currency when carrying $10,000 or more:
Travelers may carry as much currency as they wish into or out of the United States. However, when carrying currency or other monetary instruments of $10,000 or more let customs agents know. This is a part of a program to stopping illegal drug trafficking and avoid taxation. Travelers who fail to report all of their currency may have their currency seized and may face criminal charges.
The entry process is more efficient, more intuitive and paperless for travelers.
- Automated Passport Control and Mobile Passport Control – APC allows most travelers to use self-service kiosks at more than 50 airports worldwide. Travelers who download the Mobile Passport App can submit their passport and inspection information prior to arrival.
- Biometric Entry/Exit – CBP and its partners automate the identity verification process at some ports of entry with biometric facial comparison technology. Instead of presenting a passport, travelers pose for a picture at the boarding gate or passport inspection booth. The new process is intended to reduce aircraft boarding times, improve security, and fulfill a Congressional mandate. U.S. citizens can opt-out of the biometric process. Any traveler may ask CBP officers or airline representatives to inspect their travel documents manually, as is done today.
- Trusted Traveler Programs – Consider joining the ranks of a Trusted Traveler Program. Members of Global Entry, NEXUS or SENTRI enjoy the most expedited CBP processing experience.
- Preclearance – Preclearance allows CBP to station customs inspectors at overseas traveler inspections. U.S.-bound travelers from Preclearance airports face processing prior to boarding. When precleared travelers arrive in the US, they do not have to pass any further screening.
- Visa Waiver Program (VWP) – Citizens and nationals of the 39 Visa Waiver Program countries may be eligible to enter the US without a visa. VWP travelers must apply online via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. Submit ESTA applications 72 hours in advance of departure.
- Apply and pay for an I-94 online: Speed up your entry into the United States by providing your biographic and travel information and paying the $6 fee for the I-94 application online at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/ up to seven days prior to entry.
Monitor border wait times:
Use the border wait times website to plan your trip across the border. Travelers may also download the official Border Wait Time app from the Apple App Store or Google Play.
Use a Ready Lane:
Some U.S. land border crossings feature Ready Lanes, which are 20 percent faster than normal lanes. To use Ready Lanes, travelers over 16 years of age must have radio frequency identification (RFID) enabled travel documents. These include RFID-enabled U.S. passport cards; legal permanent resident cards; B1/B2 border crossing cards; Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, and FAST cards; and enhanced driver’s licenses.
Traveling with medication:
Declare all medicine and similar products when entering the United States to customs agents. Prescription medications should be in their original containers with the doctor’s prescription printed on the container. If the medications or devices are not in their original containers, travelers must have a copy of the prescription or a letter from their doctor. It is advised that travelers carry no more than a 90-day supply of their medication.
Traveling with pets:
Cats and dogs must be healthy and free of disease and illness when entering the United States. In addition, dog owners need proof of rabies vaccination. When crossing with a puppy, complete all paperwork at the border. All pets face health, quarantine, agriculture, and wildlife requirements and prohibitions. Pets taken out of the United States and returned go through the same requirements as those entering for the first time. For more information about traveling with your pet to a foreign country or bringing your pet into the United States, visit the APHIS pet travel website.
CBP’s mission facilitates lawful travel while maintaining the highest standards of security. On a typical day, customs agents process more than one million travelers arriving at airports, seaports, and border crossings.
Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 14 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation, and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.